As the Jewish community prepares to celebrate the Passover holiday and Seder feast, we decided to uncover some unusual historical facts about this sacred tradition. Did you know the holiday has a history that includes mobsters, underground Coca-Cola, and proto-feminism?
Well, now you do. L'chaim!
Mobsters Caused a Prohibition-era Rift Between the Jewish Orthodoxy and Reformers
Wine, a symbol of freedom during Seder, became the center of a controversy during Prohibition. After the U.S. government allowed Jewish people to make and even import wine for Passover if they got a special permit, mobsters began setting up fake "congregations" to take advantage of the loophole.
Since Orthodox Jews were the ones pushing for the wine, they were blamed for the subsequent embarrassment Judaism faced as a result of the crime. This led to a rift between Reform and Orthodox Jews, with reformers asking the traditionalists to just drink grape juice instead.
With the end of Prohibition, and rise of Naziism, this brief civil wine war was laid to rest.
Yes, regular Coke is technically Kosher, but during Passover, heightened restrictions keep observant Jews from consuming high-fructose corn syrup, which belongs to a nixed category of grains that includes corn. In observance of this, Coca-Cola makes a special version of the soda with real cane sugar during Passover, distinguished by a yellow cap. A backlash against high-fructose corn syrup, coupled with the fact that the cherished original Coke recipe also used real cane sugar, has prompted kosher Coke to become a hit among the non-Jew goyim crowd, too.
Just how popular is it? In California, when carcinogen restrictions kept Coca-Cola from releasing a special Passover variety a couple years ago, crafty stores started selling out-of-state bottles to Jewish (and non-Jewish) patrons with a thirst for the kosher stuff.
A Woman Was Behind the First American English Adaptation of the Haggadah
Hero du jour! Way back at the turn of the 20th century, Lillie Cowen published the first American English adaptation of the haggadah, the Jewish text read during Seder. "Cowen Haggadah," as it was called, was the most popular version of the text in the U.S. throughout the first quarter of the 20th century, selling nearly 300,000 copies by 1935.
Image of a Ukrainian 19th century depiction of the Seder table: Wikimedia Commons